Tag Archives | Learning

What Skydiving Taught Me About Curiosity


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It was one of the scariest moments of my life, when the person ahead of me on the airplane went to the door – and jumped.

And then it was my turn.

Believe it or not, I didn’t go skydiving for the adrenaline rush. But a friend of mine had been talking about it, and talking about it, and talking about it, until I finally asked, “WHAT is so fascinating about skydiving?”

And he answered, “It’s so peaceful.

*Puzzled look.*

Well, then I was curious. And I had to go.

So I jumped with two instructors at 15,000 feet. Now, Mt. Rainier is only fourteen thousand and something feet high. We jumped at 15,000 feet.

Nobody told me how NOISY it would be in freefall! Imagine being in a car with the windows open going 120 miles an hour. Only there’s no car.

But once the parachute opened – that beautiful parachute – everything got quiet. And it was peaceful. It was my favorite time of day, too – sunset. It was beautiful.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it hasn’t killed me. I learned that day that if I allow myself to follow my curiosity, I often get an unexpected bonus. In this case, the bonus was this: Now when I have to do something scary, I can say, “Pffft. I can do that – I’ve jumped out of an airplane!”

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

What unexpected treasures have you discovered by being curious?

What Gets in the Way of Being Curious?


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I recently spent five days with more than one hundred fascinating people at the Become an Inspiring Speaker workshop. (And it was fabulous!) In one of the first exercises, we paired up to talk about our focus and our reasons for being there. I paired up with Ross Barrable, an acoustic sculptor and builder of wind harps. (How can you not be curious about that?)

I told Ross about my interest in wonder and curiosity as catalysts for creativity, innovation, learning, and compassion. His eyes lit up, and he asked me, “Why are people curious?” I suggested that a better question is, “What keeps people from being curious?”

We are hard-wired to be curious. Children are naturally curious, and grown-ups can be, too. In fact, the human brain rewards curiosity by emitting an opium-like chemical when a new concept is grasped.

Being curious is easy – as easy as falling off a log, as they say. Or is it? Some people lose their sense of curiosity. (Is it a sense? Is it a muscle? Hmmm.) Why?

If being curious is so easy, why don’t more people let themselves be curious? I think there are several reasons.

One reason is that well-meaning adults train children out of it. Children get scared, and we want to protect them. We want to look smart. And we get tired of all those questions. So we tell them what we know, or we tell them what we think we know, or we tell them to stop asking so many questions. Maybe curiosity gets squashed as people leave childhood and it is easier to conform than to keep being told to stop asking so many questions.

Another reason is just Habit: It’s easy to get comfortable, even lazy.

Another, more insidious reason is that we think we know the truth; for example, we think we know about people who are different from us. So we don’t inquire.

I think the main reason is Fear.

But I think the main reason is Fear.

By asking questions, I run the risk of:

Looking dumb.

Looking nosey.

Looking bigoted.

Looking disrespectful.

Looking defiant.

When we ask questions, we run the risk of being ridiculed for asking “stupid questions.” We also run the risk of getting new information that might force us to change the way we think. That can be uncomfortable.

Nobody wants to be forced to do anything, especially to change. I once read a quote attributed to Rosabeth Moss Kanter that said, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” I think that is true.

So, why don’t we ask questions?

It’s easier not to ask questions; it’s easier to go along.

We think we know something.

We’re afraid to admit we don’t know something.

We’re afraid of looking dumb.

We’re afraid of changing our minds.

We’re afraid that if we allow one part of our worldview to change, the whole thing will unravel, and that feels like chaos.

Fear.

Being curious takes courage. I submit not only that courage is like a muscle, but curiosity is like a muscle, too. Like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes and the more fun you can have with it.

One more thought:

I submit that it takes more courage to admit that I don’t know or I am wrong than to get to know someone else.

I’ll say that again, a different way: It takes less courage to get to know someone who is different from myself than it does to admit I might be wrong, or that I don’t know. Once I am willing to admit that I don’t know something, asking the questions is easy by comparison. Even fun.

So, are you curious? If not, are you willing to wonder why? What keeps you from being curious?

Management Lessons from My Cats – Part II


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Note: This is the second of two posts I wrote last April and didn’t post until now. Don’t ask me why. Better late than never.

Everyone knows that cats are “low maintenance,” which is why some people prefer them over dogs.

Dogs are not low maintenance.

I have two cats (or they have me). Two cats are even lower maintenance than one cat, believe it or not, because they rely on each other for a lot of play, companionship and cleaning support.

Except for right now, when they are separated for twelve days during the convalescence of one. Abby, of course, requires more attention than usual while I learn how to administer medicine, look after her wounds, and scratch her ears, neck and chin inside the satellite dish.

But Rocket requires more attention right now, too. Not only does she not have Abby for company, but I am spending more time with Abby, so I have to be sure to spend more time with Rocket, too.

Both of their worlds have been rocked, and they are needier and more anxious than normal. Change Management for Cats 101.

And it occurred to me that while cats are Low Maintenance, they are not No Maintenance.

Just like team members. And teams.

Some people – and teams – require little supervision and management. But even they require attention at times. The challenge is knowing how much and when. If you can get that right, they purr.

What kind of attention do you appreciate from your management? What kind of attention do you give to your team members? How do you shift gears to help them cope with Change? What makes them – and you – purr?

PS – Abby is now fine. After what seemed like an eternity of keeping the cats separate, the vet pronounced her Healed and removed the satellite dish. (Which she gave to me, since I had paid for it, but really, if I can’t pill a cat, do you think I’ll be able to put a satellite dish on one single-handedly? Not. Very. Likely. But I’m adhering to Murphy’s Law for Packrats: It’s stowed away in the closet, because if I keep it I’ll never need it.)

Management Lessons from My Cats – Part I


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Note: I wrote this in April, and just realized I never posted it. Shame on me!

One of my cats, Abby, is sick. She developed a nasty abscess on her behind that had to be cleaned out surgically, and now she has to wear a satellite dish for 12 days until the stitches come out. (We are currently on Day Four.) And she has to live in the bedroom during that time, since my other cat will try to lick her and there is no satellite dish for that. So both cats are unhappy, and I’m a wreck. But my sister said, “You should get some great blog posts from this!”

Hmm.

I’m thinking… give me a minute…

There are a lot of things to be grateful for:

  • I am less of a wreck than I was four years ago when my other cat (Rocket) got sick. That was only a year after my husband died, and I remember sitting in the car, sobbing and thinking, “What is wrong with me? I was a calm, capable Caregiver, and now I’m a wreck over a cat?” (Of course, I forgot at the time about the mornings this Caregiver stood in the shower, sobbing.) So progress is measured in strange ways.
  • The antibiotics come in liquid form, thank God, so I don’t have to pill her. (Pilling Rocket was a Nightmare. The Nightmare on Rose Street.) I just have to pry her mouth open, jam an eyedropper in and squeeze before she shifts. (While she has a satellite dish on her head and without ripping the stitches on her cute little behind. That’s all.)
  • When I miss, she licks the droplets off of her face and the inside of the satellite dish, so she must not mind the taste. (Update: She won’t eat food with the medicine mixed in, so she must mind the taste after all.)
  • Abby has figured out how to eat and get to her water dish (after I figured out how to wedge them so her dishes wouldn’t move when she bulldozed into them).
  • She has, therefore, been using the cat box. I never thought I’d be grateful for having to scoop out a cat box.
  • There are moments of warped humor, such as when I brought Abby home and she started walking the perimeter of the bedroom like a Blind Cave Tetra in a new aquarium, and she kept walking into things. The satellite dish would get caught on things as she walked by, over and over again. It reminded me of the old Saturday Night Live episodes when Gilda Radner played an autistic girl who kept walking into things. I don’t know if Abby did it because she just didn’t know her new boundaries yet, or because she couldn’t feel her whiskers, or she was trying to knock the thing off of her head, but it was all I could do to not laugh. (Cats hate being laughed at.)

Don’t Give Up – the Management Lessons are Coming

There are also some lessons and reminders:

  • I don’t know how parents do it. I have so much respect for my mom and all the parents I know. I bow before Your Greatness.
  • I have learned how to spell “abscess.”
  • Just because I don’t know how to do something (like give Abby her medicine) doesn’t mean I’m a failure as a parent/caregiver. It’s just another thing I have to learn. Hmm. That kind of applies to everything, doesn’t it?
  • Giving cats medicine is like terminating people: The more you do it, the better you get at it, but it’s not something you ever want to get any practice at. (I actually learned that about terminating people when I was a recruiter, and then later as a manager. But this was an ironic reminder.)

That last one is true for most difficult conversations. Avoidance doesn’t help. Rehearsing helps, and it’s best not to rehearse by yourself. It is OK to ask for help and practice with someone you can trust, who is appropriate for what might be a confidential situation. And it’s easier than practicing pilling a cat.

Management lessons come from funny places. I wonder, What are some surprising lessons you’ve learned? What are some surprising sources of those lessons?

Note: It’s now six months later and, although the 12 days turned into three weeks, Abby and Rocket and I all recovered.

Bird Brains -or- How Do Birds (and People) Learn?


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My office looks out upon a patio garden that is twice as large as this room, and I spend a good deal of time here working – and contemplating the garden. The patio is enclosed by a six-foot privacy fence and shaded by a heritage Valley Oak. Over the years I have transformed (or more accurately, continually transform) it from an ivy-ridden rectangle filled with oak leaves and acorns to a miniature secret garden and wildlife sanctuary.

Two of my favorite features (which also drive me crazy) are a fountain and a bird feeder. The fountain I built several years ago from a large ceramic pot, and the bird feeder (and a separate hummingbird feeder) hang from a nearby post.

The fountain is a favorite with the birds, but it occasionally stymies them. The goldfinches were the first to figure out how to use it as a water source, landing on the spout and having a drink. The current spout also provides a spot where they can stand in the running water and cool their heels, which they often do in the summertime.

For more than a year I watched other small birds watch the goldfinches but never make the leap to perching on and drinking from the spout themselves. It wasn’t until last Spring that I saw various house finches and chickadees making the same use of it.

This morning a house finch visited who is apparently new to the neighborhood. A female (or juvenile) who may just be finishing molting, she has little tufts on her head that mimic a horned owl, giving her a slightly disheveled look. She landed on the edge of the fountain and spent a good part of the morning looking longingly at the stream of water coming from the spout. She hopped about on the edge, eyeing the stream, peering down at the water in the bowl, and flinching as water droplets would bounce up at her. She made numerous attempts to lean forward to drink from the bowl, but it was a big stretch and she often had trouble keeping her balance.

How Do Birds Learn?

Meanwhile, a male house finch, glorious with his red head and back, swooped down from the bird feeder, landed on the spout, and had a good long drink. Tufts watched him with her head cocked, and even hopped up and fluttered in the air while she watched. The male flew back to the bird feeder, but Tufts remained on the edge of the fountain, eyed the spout, and then continued reaching down for a drink. A few minutes later, the male came back for another drink. He clearly said something to her and looked at her while he drank. Tufts again watched him intently but again, after he flew away, she returned to stretching down, almost beyond her reach, to drink from the bowl.

How many times, I wondered, would she have to watch him before making the attempt herself? Just then, Tufts leapt off of the edge and into the bowl – and into the water. Much to her apparent surprise, she got rather wet. She flew up to the fence and shook herself off, and I swear I could see her frowning in contemplation. She hopped over to the bird feeder and munched for a few minutes, then flew back to the edge of the fountain – and hopped down into the water again. This time she hopped back up onto the edge, preened, stretched, and looked quite satisfied with herself.

Was her initial hop into the water an attempt to get at drink? Was it an unsuccessful attempt to land on the spout, or was it an end run? Was it her intention to take a bath, or was that just a serendipitous outcome? I’ve been sitting here for about two hours, and I haven’t yet seen her land on the spout. I have only watched her observing another bird drinking from the spout two times; how many times will she have to see it before she is willing to try it?

Maybe she will decide that the method favored by most other birds just isn’t for her. Maybe she thinks she is a much larger bird. (I have watched robins and blue jays drink from the edge of the fountain, but for them reaching the water is not such a stretch.) I have also seen other birds – hummingbirds and goldfinches – fly into the stream of water to get a bath. But I have never before watched a bird intentionally dunk itself in the water for a bath. Does she just not get it? Or is she afraid to try something new?

How Do People Learn?

How many times do we have to see someone do something before we work up the confidence to try it ourselves? How often do we fail at the attempt – or try an alternative – and end up accomplishing something entirely unexpected? And, how often does someone who has accomplished an act consciously demonstrate it for others, encouraging them to give it a try? How many times will they be willing to demonstrate until the student works up the courage to try – or courageously fails until finally succeeds? Certainly, being willing to live at the edge of chaos makes a difference.

* * *

Meanwhile, I am watching a goldfinch pull bits of cotton wool for nesting materials from the erstwhile suet feeder. She pulls and pulls and pulls, until she has a beakful that is nearly too large for her to take away. “Silly bird,” I thought, “why don’t you just make multiple trips?” Then I had to laugh at myself, thinking of all the times I have tried to carry more bags of groceries than I should, simply because I didn’t want to make multiple trips from the car to the house and I was fixated on what seemed to be the simplest solution.

In some ways, we’re not so different from the birds.

Circles


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Have you ever noticed how seemingly unrelated things connect?

Last week I attended an event in an ongoing series of VisionHolder calls sponsored by Craig and Patricia Neal’s Heartland Circle. This week’s event was an evening with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, co-founders of PeerSpirit, Inc. and co-authors of “The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair.” I have enjoyed several of these events in the past year, and this was no exception.

After opening the circle, Ann and Christine spoke about how they began using circles as a forum for teaching and conducting meetings, how they met and began working together, and some of the key facets of circle work. (Maybe “facets” isn’t the right word, since circles don’t have facets. Hmmm. How about points?)

Anyway, some of those points included the idea that the circle is the molecular unit of democratic practice; all members have a voice. They can remove divisions and do not allow differences to divide people. Anger can be expressed, if it is directed to the center where it can just be deposited and not directed across the circle at someone else. And when we focus on the issue we are gathered around today, “the sacred comes into the room.” (I thought this was a particularly moving idea; it was not about religion, but about something “entitled to reverence and respect.”

I was also struck by Christine’s description of how she began using circles in her teaching. She realized that her students were also teaching her and each other, and I was struck by the connection to Paulo Freire’s emphasis on the teaching model of “teacher-student and student-teacher.” (I am re-reading his book, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” for the first time in 30 years, and I am struck by the timeliness – or timelessness – of his thoughts, as well as how he has shaped my thinking.) Connection Number One.

Then on Friday I attended the annual conference of the Bay Area Organization Development Network (BAodn). For the first time the conference did not follow the traditional model with a keynote speaker and pre-defined sessions with expert speakers. Instead, the conference followed the “Open Space” model. There was a facilitator, but there was no set agenda and there were no “expert speakers.”

Instead, we convened in a circle (ah, Connection Number Two) and the facilitator, Lisa Heft, explained to us how the day would proceed. Anyone who had an issue or question they would like to have addressed in a session could come to the center, create a placard, and announce it to the group. They then selected which of three one-hour time slots they wanted their session to be in. When those who had created sessions were done, they were assigned meeting stations to convene their circles. (There it is again.) Then we began the first session and participants went to the session(s) of their choice. Each group was asked for a Note Taker and the notes were turned in at the end to be compiled into a Book of Proceedings that will be distributed to all participants. At the end, after all sessions were complete, the facilitator reconvened the great circle and each person had an opportunity to share a reflection on the day.

This was quite an interesting experience for me. It was somewhat uncomfortable, at least initially, for those who are more comfortable with Structure – even if they admitted it was only so they could resist that structure – but there was no Chaos. Every person’s expertise and desire to learn had a place; and all perspectives were welcome. The only barrier to being heard was one’s own barriers to speaking. There was a lot of sharing and learning and exposure to new ideas or tools, and I was struck by how many people said they found themselves having, and sharing, surprising insights.

I wonder about my recent experiences with these learning circles. They are not, at their core, new; as Ann and Christine said, such circles are archetypal, part of our cellular memory: Humans have been gathering around fires since there were fires and humans.

But why are they getting attention now? I wonder, is it just me paying attention? Or is it that at this point in time we are realizing that many of the “experts” have been wrong, or dishonest, and our answers have to come from each other – and from within?

It seems to me that these circles are like Four-Way Stops, which someone once said were one of the great examples of Civilization. Why? Because everyone generally agrees to abide by the rule without enforcement. There is the opportunity for Chaos, but it is avoided.

I wonder. And I look forward to doing more circle work.

What about you? Care to join me?

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